Now that the deadline has closed to submit grant applications for Broadband Stimulus Plan funding, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in terms of growth.
While the primary goal of the plan is to stimulate growth among businesses in rural and underserved communities, what impact will the money have in the telco sector - (particularly for the small, independent, local exchange providers)?
Midvale Exchange is a local carrier serving rural regions of Arizona, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Operations Manager John Stuart shared his thoughts with us recently about the plan, on where he sees opportunities vs. challenges. Here are some excerpts from our conversation with him. The full interview can be found at .broadbandignite.com.
Broadband Ignite (BI): Do you see this plan as a step in the right direction?
John Stuart (JS): The intent is there and certainly providing high speed access to communities that don't have it is extremely important. However there are many gaps in how the plan has been put together that may be problematic to get things done.
BI: I understand right-of-way requirements – the permits that are necessary to break ground, build towers and run wire and cables – present a big challenge in regard to the proposed plan.
John Stuart (JS) “Some departments don’t even have the people or specialists to process permits. To process them you need to hire these people – stimulus funding won’t address these hurdles.”
BI: Another obstacle you see are the rigid and perhaps arbitrary requirements for grant applications, such as one that gives priority to projects that can commence immediately upon approval?
JS: “Program administrators want shovel-ready type projects. Many of these efforts are multi-year projects that can’t be completed in a two-year time frame (another provision in the grant guidelines). You can’t just throw Federal dollars at projects and expect the local and municipal challenges go away.”
Despite some of the challenges John sees in the current plan, he says Midvale is applying for some of the grants to do middle mile projects where they have permits in place or pending, and that they have already received several Rural Utility Service (RUS) loans.